For The Hungry Ghosts
In Partnership with Kilkenny Arts Festival
In response to Episode 6 of Ulysses, Paula Meehan, one of Ireland’s most prominent living poets, has produced a brand-new collection of poetry, For the Hungry Ghosts, written through the powerful and deeply personal lens of the grief and trauma she has experienced, inherited and lived.
Bloom’s journey on the 16th of June 1904 across Dublin to a funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery is also a journey into Bloom’s interior obsessions, into the underworld of his emotional life: the suicide of his father; the death of his child; his fraught relationship with his wife Molly and her wandering eye; the anxiety attendant on his daughter’s blossoming into womanhood.
On 13 & 14 August 2022 at Kilkenny Arts Festival, in collaboration with master musician David Power, Paula Meehan premiered an intimate performance of her elegies, poems of mourning and signposts to recovery and survival, drawing on the live resonance of the uilleann pipes to channel volcanic emotion and to ritualise and assuage grief.
At the Sign of the White Horse
We called it a day; we called it a night.
There was absinthe; there was tsipouro.
There was amnesia; there was oblivion.
The waves far out were wild and white capped
But those close in lapped and lipped at the shore
Like whispers, like kisses.
A red sailed schooner made in for safe haven.
The barman’s arms were tattooed with skulls
And crosses like kisses round his neck were a rosary.
Or a garrotte. I remember thinking. If thinking it was.
I was three sheets in the wind and listing to starboard.
So I offer this witness with caveat and warning.
The children played on the sand — their squabbles microcosmic
To the storm that was brewing. Chair toppling squalls blew
My lines off my sheet, my sheets off the lines
So much to remember; so much to forget.
The sun was setting; a new moon rising.
It was sextile Neptune if it matters to you.
It matters to me, my first day sober.
I died in your arms at the sign of the white horse.
My old self tucked in a bed of soft clay
In that port of white towers, white houses, white streets.
The leaves that dropped on my grave were blessings
The white rose you laid there a token of hope
The winter would shrive me, would scour me, would save me.
When I rose from the dead I was dressed in white linen.
My angel of mercy, my angel of kindness,
Wreathed in myrtle, smelling of pine.
On your milk white steed with your milk white promises:
I was lady
of as much land
as I could ride in a long summer’s day.
I Open the World Like a Box of Colours
The tin box of childhood, of Christmas, of birthdays,
The pristine tiles in rows, the lid a palette,
The brush dipped & pointed & loaded
And the day a fresh sheet waiting
For the wash, the mark, the line;
And as I work I stand in memory,
In solidarity with my dying father
Who brought home stiff white paper
From the racetrack, from his arcane job:
A bookmaker’s clerk — what might that be?
It was all mystery to me in my girlhood, in the 1960’s.
I thought he made books, those winged angels,
My heart’s delight flapping through those lost rooms
The tenements, the rentals, the illegal lets.
I told him all this not long before he died;
How the purloined paper where he scanned
Out the names and the horses’ odds, evens, the prices,
Presaged what my life would become,
A maker of books, a maker of marks on the page,
How patterns emerge, distort, resume,
How the dúchas briseann trí súile an chait,
How all the puzzling crosswords,
All the horses’ names, the greyhounds, their lineages,
The narratives the bookies and the punters called form
Were part now of my own molecular spin,
My drift of years not random, but determined,
Willed by the these charms of fate
These whorls in the flux of our journeys.
And if he made sense of what I was saying,
Or of what I was trying to say, he never let on.
Taciturn to the end, he kept his counsel.
We were standing at his door in Mellowes Court
Waiting for the downpour to abate
Regarding an old snuffling very melancholy
Border collie with matted fur, one eye blue, one brown,
A dreadlocked spectre at the gates of time.
Both of us nearing the end of our roads, he said.
The rain stopped and the world, even in the face
Of his dying, was new-minted and fresh.
The suburban murmuration at the end of summer,
Bumblebees and strimmers, resumed.
Too many of your friends died young, he said.
The sad fucking winners, the sad fucking losers.
We shuffled up to Finglas village for a pint
And a carvery lunch in the Shamrock,
A bet in Paddy Powers, a fiver each way
On Nick-Nick, offspring of Mrs. Santa and Satan
Which he noticed, as I knew he would,
The sire and the mare had anagrammed each other,
A fact that pleased us both greatly & equally
Though the horse lost the race by five lengths
And this poem took a decade and more to make.
I open the world like a box of new colours
Each morning pristine, full of promise
And there’s my father, and all my beloved dead
Holy icons in the chapel where I go
To light candles for their peace and for mine,
Before I close the lid on the world
That winks out with the wheeling stars above.
The Grief of Creatures
The old horse comes as usual to the fence
to be fed by the man who leaves the house
in the breaking light of dawn with a sack of early apples.
The mare comes after, and her foal,
like a shy girl at her flank, coming down
the mountainy field through the summer mist.
The rain drenched stallion in the lower field
pricks up his ears, his companion donkey
patient at the gate. And, oh, they’ll be waiting
for the man as he whistles the two dogs to heel
and turns to the wide-open sea where his name
is writ on water. They’ll be waiting
the long hours for the man to finish the line
and set down his poem and pick up the bucket
of sweet early apples and climb up the hill to the gate.
They’ll be waiting and wondering. Has he fallen
asleep in his bed of nettles, or is he lost
in a mineshaft’s coppery dark? They’ve not
seen him take the boat out the harbour mouth.
They’ve not seen him step the mast.
But they’ve smelled a wind off the Atlantic,
the last wind to fill his sails.
The old horse comes as usual to the fence
to be fed, and the mare and her shy foal.
They are waiting for John O’Leary.
He could nearly stretch his hand across the void
to touch the grieving horses,
to stroke their velvet muzzles,
his hands smelling of apples, of salt.